5 Reasons Your Pet Might Be Itchy

Posted by Stacey Venzel
Kristian Niemi/Flickr

If your pet is relentlessly scratching, he has a reason. Find out why.

When your pet is so itchy that the scratching keeps you up at night, it's time to take your furry friend to the vet. Skin issues can be acute or chronic. Either way, it's a good idea to get to the root of the cause instead of just treating the symptoms.

Why might your pet be itchy?

 1. Dermatitis

Easily recognizable with "hot spots," dermatitis is characterized by skin inflammation caused by an infection. In some cases, the wound or infected area is self-inflicted from an initial obsessive licking or scratching behavior.

A skin cytology, often involving collection of skin cells via a piece of tape then stained and observed under the microscope, can rule out bacteria versus yeast infections.

 2. Otitis

If your pet's scratching is localized around the ears, colonies of yeast or bacteria may be setting up camp. Dogs that spend a lot of time swimming often develop ear infections. Proper ear maintenance can help prevent otitis.

A cytology--a simple ear swab observed under the microscope--can determine if indeed there is an infection, including what type and to what degree.

Castaway in Scotland/Flickr
Castaway in Scotland/Flickr

 3. Parasites

Parasitic infestations can cause frequent, violent scratching episodes. Fleas, though small, are visible to the naked eye as is "flea dirt"--the insect's poop.

If your pet looks peppered in black flakes, collect some with a flea comb. Then, drop some water on the dots and smear them on a paper towel or piece of paper. If the smear turns red, it's indicative of fleas because the dried poop, though appearing black, is actually dried blood, as that is the diet of a flea! The water rehydrates the blood, distinguishing actual dirt from flea dirt.

Mites, such as Demodex or scabies, could also be causing your pet to itch. Overpopulations of Demodex can result in irritated skin lesions. Scabies, a burrowing mite, create a parasitic skin allergy for the animal.

A mite check is usually done with a skin scraping, removing a thin layer of epithelial cells but going deep enough to get below the surface skin for the burrowers. Microscopic analysis will determine the presence or absence of mites.

 4. Pyoderma

When skin pustules start popping up on your pet's skin, it's a fair guess that you're looking at pyoderma. This bacterial infection causes pus to seep out of the skin.

A skin impression, in which a sample of the ooze is swiped on a slide and read under the microscope, will confirm this diagnosis.

Nicole Mays/Flickr
Nicole Mays/Flickr

 5. Allergy

Itching can be an outward sign of an inward imbalance. Though topical allergies, like pollen, exist, other seasonal and regional outbreaks as well as food allergies can lead to itchy skin. A blood test looking at a selected panel of potential culprits will let an owner know if the pet is allergic to something.

Determining what is causing itchiness could be as easy as a visual once-over by the veterinarian, but either way, laboratory tests are always a wise idea to rule out other possibilities and assure that the underlying cause is treated.

If the owner chooses only to treat the symptoms, then the animal could be on medication for the rest of its life when, alternatively, there might be a way to resolve the issue entirely!

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5 Reasons Your Pet Might Be Itchy